1 December 2007

Seasonal Adaptation

It's somehow weird and especially amazing how we adapt to change; just two weeks ago I was complaining how I wasn't ready for winter this year - the effect heightened by the oyxmoron that was 'Summer 2007' [except for that amazing month of April]. So it was with much trepidation that I returned to Austria 2 weeks ago, for some undeniably wintry affairs.

I’d recently decided to have a bash at furthering my ski instructor training, having entered this different – and much misunderstood – world the previous year. As I am applying my newly-coined phrase of “temporary retirement” to my own life at present then it was easy to find the time. Given the level of training you get on these things, they are also definitely worth their reasonable cost. So, the twinned obstacles of time and money that so often get in the way were for once felled, and off I went. Back to Austria, the 'land of the bergs' as per the national anthem [credit to Alban]. At least that’s accurate; is the Queen of England and … where is she Queen of exactly? I forget. She’s more popular in Canada than Scotland. Good job I don’t have to do that Citizenship Exam. But in terms of anthemic accuracy, is she gracious? Sorry, going off the point there again...

So, I returned to the more correctly-themed Austria for more ski training. I’d done the first part of the Austrian system, known as the Anwärter (candidate) in non-winter 06/07 (spot the theme) and worked as an instructor in the beloved Arlberg, in St Anton. Was a bit of a dream come true thing really and at age 34 it was fucking scary. But that’s another story. This time I was going to have a go at the next level, Landeslehrer I, with the Viennese Ski Instructor Association, aka Snowsport Academy. Logical progression, fair enough. However, the system is distinctly non-linear – almost logarithmic really – the jumps between subsequent levels becoming ever larger and more daunting. Hence, yet again I was shit scared about what I was letting myself in for.

Many friends were delighted I was going back. Please try and not misread that, they just knew how much I got out of it and so were happy I was returning for more. Others also said things like, "ooo how lovely, enjoy the holiday". Enjoy the fucking holiday?! You have no idea. We are talking pseudoarmy here. Ok, without the shouting. And yes, with more fun. But it’s a difficult thing to describe; everyone has experience of training and examination of an academic nature, but the same process applied to physical capabilities is a stranger one, at least for me anyway. I suppose at least when you write an exam, no-one is watching what you write at the time.

Sunday lunchtime, cold and a bit dreary. Zell am See Bahnhof, Salzburger Land. It was November 18. Snowy. Already. Quite a lot. Compared to the previous season this was already fantastic. And I stood there, rucksack fusing with my back, coffin-weight dual ski bag (aka ‘Granddad’) nesting itself in the fresh snow. What the fuck? How did this happen? Only a few days ago I was still whinging I wasn’t ready for winter yet. But winter doesn’t wait. And even though I’d last skied on April twentysomething of this year (after a solid 4 months bar 2 days), the very thought of skiing felt so foreign to me. How odd is that?

Then, despite me remaining a relapsed smoker, something overcame me with a twinkle of a reminder of why I love this environment so much. I breathed. And noticed. Oh, the air, the clean, crisp, delicious mountain air. After months in a hyperpolluted environment such as central London, the first breath of this air is the respiratory equivalent of a long cold drink after a desert hike. You can feel the breathing, and it is simply amazing; a pulmonary orgasm. And then you, yet again, resolve to try and smoke less. Invigorated and feeling more positive, I dragged the kit on the bus and headed up to Kaprun.

What was to follow comprised ten exhausting, thrilling, sometimes almost gruelling days of fun - and all with an austrian german soundtrack; my basic german is good, but basic is the word. 6:30 starts, intensive ski training until late afternoon with a quickish lunch and then theory lessons all evening straggling dinner. Bed about 10, rinse and repeat. It's quite a shock to the system, especially as this was the beginning of the season. The leg pain (especially post moguls), best illustrated by trying to climb the stairs, only slightly assuaged by the observation that it was a universal problem.

But within a day or two, something imperceptible had happened; I was a skier again - maybe an instructor - again. I was loving winter, loving the white stuff, which so early in the season was floating out of the ski in reassuringly large, cristalline quantities. One day absorbed or embroiled in urban dealings and goings on, then so soon after automatically strapping on the avalanche beeper while still half asleep. It's like something latent lies dormant through the summer and then comes to life at the sight of snow. A kind of reverse hibernation. Amazing really.

As tough as the course was, it was in equal quantity incredible fun. The training was brilliant, pushing everyone to their limit but using new school positive encouragement technique rather than other more dubious protocols I've experienced in various forms of training in my life. I learnt a lot about how to get the best out of people while working as a ski instructor. An instructor's principle role most of the time is some form of practical psychologist, encouraging people to overcome their innate fear with a toolbox of technical tricks and movements. The more I think of it, the more I believe ski teacher training should be compulsory for all managers in every kind of enterprise. Face it, you're not going to get someone to overcome their fear on a mountain and perform their best by shouting, bullying or some other common, undeclared management technique.

The gem in this course though (and definitely my key to passing) was the people. The organisers and trainers were enthusiastic, inspirational people and generally nice guys. And my group colleagues were simply brilliant. Diverse characters, ages, nationalities but a great group dynamic. Everyone under pressure to perform, sometimes satisfied, often despondent and exhausted but all just bursting with team spirit and encouragement...maybe a bit of love? I cannot tell you how refreshing that is and how grateful I was to be in that environment. I've often had the delight of witnessing alternative group dynamics we all know too well in other formative or possibly competitive situations, so it's just a joy to see how it can be.

A shame it's not more often like that. So, who fancies a ski?

A final note about Ryanair's (actually excellent despite the banana yellow seats) flight to Salzburg. What is the deal with those scratch cards and "childrens charities"? Why is Ryanair’s new PA voice American? Offered for onward travel from Stansted: “We also sell bus tickets with television”. I didn't inquire about price. But before I mock the stewardess's substandard english, I remind myself she'd just done a 12 hour day. Ouch.


Luc said...

Great blog Simon. Compulsive, informative, inspiring.

Hugo said...

Very recognizable!
What happened in the Baum-bar?

See trackback...